The Washington Post

Holiday getaway begins, but it keeps going

In choosing departure times, drivers should balance their desire to avoid congestion with their ability to stay awake. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

A AAA travel survey estimates that more than 2.3 million people will get away from the D.C. region for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, but they won’t all leave at once. This isn’t like the four-day Thanksgiving getaway. In fact, it isn’t even like most Christmases and New Year’s, because this time, the holidays fall smack in the middle of the week.

While the exodus may be massive in total, travelers have much more luxury in timing their getaways than they do at Thanksgiving. Some lucky ones will be heading out for two weeks, some for one of the next two weeks, some will create five-day weekends and some will be stuck with just a short mid-week turnaround.

Be prepared for some heavier than normal traffic on Friday afternoon and evening, but it won’t match the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Plus, we have better weather, though long-distance travelers should monitor conditions along the entire route as well as at their starting point.

The worst traffic along holiday routes from D.C. is likely to be on Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia. It’s the East Coast’s Main Street, mixing long-distance traffic with holiday shoppers and local commuters.

See our guide for well-traveled routes and alternatives for getaways from the D.C. area, including maps.

Here are some other tips.

Most highway departments suspend work during the peak holiday travel times. But if you take extra days off for your travels, you might encounter work zones.

A work zone on an I-70 bridge in the Hagerstown area may affect some travelers on their return trips. To avoid the eastbound work zone, get off I-70 at either exit 9 (a left side exit) or 12, and get onto Route 40 East. Head south on Route 63 to rejoin I-70 past the bridge work zone. Here’s a link to a Google Map showing the location of the highway bridge.

Drivers heading north on Interstate 95 will find the Maryland House in Aberdeen closed for renovations though the holidays.

Maryland’s work-zone speed cameras are never off-duty.

Traffic slows along the New Jersey Turnpike in the center of the state, where the turnpike is being widened.

Some Northeast highway and bridge tolls have risen since last year.

If you are driving overnight to avoid traffic or to keep to a tight schedule, be wary of your body clock, which might be telling you it’s time to fall asleep. The best cure for drowsy driving is to stop driving.

Traveler information

Virginia, Maryland and most other East Coast states are part of the 511 information system. Motorists can dial 511 from within the states and get up-to-date information on travel conditions.

Delaware isn’t part of that system but does provide traffic updates to travelers who tune their radios to WTMC (1380 AM). Delaware also has a Twitter feed with traffic updates: @DelawareDOT.

In range of New York, check all-news WCBS (880 AM) or WINS (1010 AM) for traffic reports every 10 minutes. WCBS has updates on the eights, WINS on the ones.

Tips for air travelers

Consider transit. Metro puts extra buses on the 5A route, between the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station and Dulles International Airport, and on the B30 route, between the Greenbelt Metrorail station and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. Note that on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 21-22, shuttle buses will replace Green Line trains between College Park and Greenbelt. Leave extra time for the shuttle if you plan to catch the B30 from Greenbelt. BWI is also accessible via MARC and Amtrak from Union Station and New Carrollton.

Travelers also can take the Maryland Transit Authority’s Route 201 bus, which offers frequent service between Gaithersburg and BWI, via the Intercounty Connector. Click here to find a timetable, and the location of stops.

For status updates on BWI parking areas, check the airport’s Twitter feed, @BWI_Airport.

If you’re leaving for just a few days, consider parking at BWI’s daily garage rather than in the uncovered long-term parking lots. The rate at the garage is $12 a day. At the long-term lots, it’s $8 per day.

Reagan National Airport is the most challenging in the Washington region for parking at holiday time, but the airport also has the best real-time information system on parking availability. Find out how many spaces are available by going to the Web site and clicking on the “Parking Information” link, or call the parking hotline at 703-417-PARK (7275).

For parking information about Dulles International Airport, go to and click on the same link. This is a guide to hourly, valet, daily and economy parking, but without the extra guidance of knowing how many spaces are left. Travelers can also call 703-572-4500.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.



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